Monday night, 40-year-old Saran Cruz slept in a halfway house. In the three years he has been homeless in Las Vegas, he has bounced around from sleeping in shelters, on the street, at treatment facilities and even in jail.
His most recent three-month stint in jail, which he said was for jaywalking, cost him his spot waiting for Section 8 housing.
Like many coming to the annual Project Homeless Connect Tuesday at the Champion Center Church near Pecos and Bonanza, Cruz filled out a housing assessment with the hope he will finally find permanent and stable housing soon.
An estimated 3,000 people were expected to filter in through the day-long event to find housing, receive help with eviction sealing, access medical care, connect with social service benefits or even just eat a warm meal. More than 150 organizations were represented.
Emily Paulsen, the executive director of Nevada Homeless Alliance, said each works to address, if not eliminate, barriers for clients to access service in the moment.
“This isn’t an information fair but rather a service fair where we tailor services to provide immediate aid,” she said. “The Department of Welfare brought all their computer equipment so they can print EBT cards on the same day. If they mail something, someone who is homeless might not receive it or there will be a significant delay.”
The event provides resources for people experiencing homelessness, or on the verge of homelessness, to find stable housing.
Paulsen said there are about 1,800 people on the countywide Homelessness Management Information Queue waiting for housing. The list prioritizes the community’s most vulnerable or most likely to die on the streets, such as the chronically homelessness.
People might become eligible, but because they are transient and might move across the city — or are forced to move because of city laws — it’s hard for outreach workers to track them down.
“If they check in today, we have an alert that comes up with a list of people to be on the lookout for,” Paulsen said. “They will be immediately taken over to our housing section and placed into housing. This event is really important because it allows us to find people on that list that otherwise are challenging to track down.”
Kelly Robson, the Chief Social Services Officer with HELP of Southern Nevada, said if they’ve had a housing assessment before, but haven’t had any contact with outreach workers or social service programs in 90 days, people have to complete a new housing assessment.
But some, like Cruz, are just getting assessed for the first time. “I’ve been trying to get into a place of my own but it takes time,” he said.
Every time he thinks he’s making progress, he has a setback. “I’ve had my wallet stolen or lost it, so didn’t have my ID or (Social Security) card,” he said. “I’ve been putting that together again.”
Like Cruz, Omar Dooley is going through the housing assessment for the first time. He has been living in his car for the last few months, and has only applied for services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
“Even with food stamps, you’re going to eat like crap,” he said. “Living in your car, you have to find creative ways to eat a hot meal.”
Coming to the event, he hoped to learn about housing opportunities and planned to visit the health care tent to see about fixing his broken glasses.
Mostly, he wanted to learn about the different services available in Southern Nevada and how to access them.
“If I can get some information here, maybe I can help some of my homies out and tell them about it,” he said. “Maybe I can even get in a better position to help them.”
At the housing assessment tent, Robson said they are also helping people not become homeless in the first place.
“Diversion is a big thing in our community right now,” she said. “If we don’t have to put someone into our homeless system, we won’t.”
Earlier at the event, Robson met a family of three that relied on the father’s $350 a week paycheck, which was supplemented with income they receive since their son is disabled.
“They were put out of their weekly (motel) last night,” Robson said. “He gets his paycheck in four days and his son get his (disability check) on the first. We used diversion funds to put them in a weekly, which he will be able to take over when he gets paid. This way, they don’t enter homelessness.”
Some people who are ready to exit homelessness and obtain housing find barriers because of eviction histories or criminal records.
“When you go to apply for an apartment, they are going to see your background and your eviction records,” said Morgan Shah, a community development attorney with Nevada Legal Services. “If they see evictions coming up on your record, then they’re thinking, ‘Oh no. This person isn’t going to pay their rent or they might trash my house.’ They are thinking this won’t be a good tenant so people are finding themselves denied for housing.”
Nevada Legal Services was at the event offering help with eviction sealing – removing evictions from public records. “Sometimes, people end up with evictions on their record even though there were circumstances beyond their control, or maybe they resolved things on their own and didn’t realize it still went on their record until it’s too late,” Shah said. “Having that opportunity to seal it helps them get access to housing.”
Paulsen said at previous Project Homeless Connects they’ve provided warrant quashing as well, but because of the new venue, which was mostly outdoors, they couldn’t accommodate the courts security requirements.
The event also had a career fair. Volunteers didn’t just send people to potential employers but also made sure they are ready for an interview.
“We sit down with them and print their resumes so they have copies on hand,” Paulsen said. “We get them a haircut, we get them a shower, we take them over to get interview clothing so when they sit down for their interview, they are ready.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of the story stated incorrect information about a warrant quashing component. Project Homeless Connect didn’t have warrant quashing at the event because the new venue couldn’t accommodate the courts security requirements.